The 18-year partnership that helped prove there’s an audience for collegiate women’s basketball came to an end last week when the University of Connecticut dumped the state’s public TV network for SportsNet New York, a regional cable network with vastly greater reach than Connecticut Public Television.
Women’s basketball has been a ratings winner for CPTV, boosting its membership and underwriting revenues, and President Jerry Franklin moved quickly to try to stem the losses. Two days after UConn announced its new contract with SportsNet, Franklin unveiled a licensing deal with Connecticut Sun of the Women’s National Basketball Association. Broadcasts begin airing May 20 on “CPTV Sports.”
Still, Franklin anticipates repercussions from the loss of UConn women’s basketball — for both CPTV and UConn. “We have about 100,000 members — radio and television — and about one-third are members because of UConn women’s basketball,” he said. “I think we’ll get sympathy this year with members staying and rallying against UConn’s decision, but the real challenge will be next year, when that sympathy has faded.”
UConn women’s basketball games had been the highest-rated public TV program in the nation, averaging an 8 or 9 share but sometimes reaching as high as a 16. (Current, Dec. 12, 2011).
SportsNet agreed to pay $4.55 million over four years to carry a minimum of 17 live UConn games starting this fall. CPTV had offered — $4.537 million over four years.
But Franklin said money wasn’t the deciding factor. “For UConn, it was all about gaining the New York market,” Franklin said. “From a press relations standpoint, I think the decision to shift their focus away from Connecticut is going to be something that will haunt them for quite a while.”
SNY, whose territory includes all of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and northeast Pennsylvania, has a total distribution of 13.7 million homes. CPTV reaches roughly 1 million households.
With UConn’s exit from its airwaves, CPTV will lose between $500,000 and $800,000 in net revenue, Franklin estimated. CPTV earns about $1.5 million annually in corporate sponsorships, and much of the income is tied to UConn basketball.
And UConn’s defection does force CPTV to rethink its priorities.
“We have to reinvent ourselves,” said Franklin. “We have to put the pain away and compartmentalize it. It may be painful, but life goes on.”